In the bland megalopolitan light
where no shadow is by day or by night
be our shadow
So wrote the artist and poet David Jones in his prayer to ‘The Tutelar of the Place’. To live with the gods is to live in a world of shadows, depths, mysteries. The opposite is a world where there are no shady nooks, hidden places, recesses; a world of hard surfaces and exposed spaces. Such a world does not exist, as hard as humans have tried to create it. Though many do live in such a world, lit by “the bland megalopolitan light” which banishes the natural darkness of night, a world constructed of the flat planes of our buildings and our roads. It is a conjectural world as much as a constructed world. Imagined as an ideal, realised imperfectly as a fact but dominating the imagined spaces around us.
Are the gods real? They are more real than this world we have created, as substantial as it appears to be. The world does still retain its deep places beyond the shallows of urbanity. Not just in leafy glades and misty hollows, but in oily puddles where labyrinths may be formed by coloured streaks, and in windswept streets where messages from the Otherworld may emerge from the tatters of torn scrap of newsprint. There are ways of seeing that reveal the world to us in different ways and what the mind’s eyes see depends on how we look. If we should choose to see them the gods reveal themselves – like the shadows that go with us as companions through the world.
It is not that the gods are absent from our shaped world, a world they are part of as much as we are. All creatures shape their world, make it different because they are in it. So, too, the gods. Consider the tale of the Enchantment on Dyfed in the Mabinogi.The land is transformed into its raw, natural state. It is still there, but there are no people in it, or any of the things that a landscape with people has in it. It is unfamiliar, unhomely. When the Enchantment is lifted it becomes homely again. Rhiannon, who has her being in the Otherworld, returns too. In our homely world she validates what we share (and this, I think, is the deeper meaning of the ‘Sovereignty’ theme). But she is also unhomely, uncanny, other – carrying significance from what is under, beyond, though also infused in our familiar world.
To try to make a world without the gods in it is not only to banish the unhomely and uncanny. It is also to banish their opposites. It is to make a world that is soulless, not only in the loose, general sense of being without depth and significance, but also in the more literal sense of losing touch with that which imbues the physical body with a sense of identity and meaning. I thank the gods for my shadow, even at Midday when the Sun takes it from me, for I know he will not keep it and will make it grow long and stretch it out into this mysterious world, mingled with the shadows of the trees, as afternoon leans into evening.